Book Review: Giallo Cinema & Its Folktale Roots

giallo cinema and its folktale roots

Giallo Cinema and Its Folktale Roots: A Critical Study of 10 Films, 1962-1987
By Michael Sevastakis
Published by McFarland, 2016. 240 pages. $39.95.

When you see the term “critical study” for a book title, you can pretty much guarantee the author is well versed in the subject matter. Or at least you’d hope so. Reading through Sevastakis’ work here, it doesn’t take long for you to realize that he definitely knows his subject matter. His goal here with this volume is to discuss ten different giallo films in great detail of the plots and characters. Then at the end of each film or chapter, he compares the plot to ten different ‘functions’ from Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp (1895-1970). Propp developed a list of 31 different themes, or functions as he called, that were what seem to be basic plot points of stories. For example #1 was Absentation: Someone goes missing, which is described in more details as: A member of the family leaves the security of the home environment for some reason. This may be the hero or perhaps is some other member of the family that the hero will later need to rescue. In any case, this division of the cohesive family injects initial tension into the storyline.

So here’s my only issue with the book. It seems that you could pick any story ever made, and you’ll be able to find ten of Propp’s thirty functions or themes in there. It’s basic storytelling. So I’m not sure what the real point of showing the correlation between a giallo from the ’70s to one of these basic plot points other than to say that Propp knew his plot points.

The other thing is that since Sevastakis’ goes into great detail into the plots of each of these films, including discussing who the killer is, if you haven’t not seen one of these particular films, the whole secret of the story would be revealed to you. And for a giallo, that is a key element to go in without that knowledge.

That being said, if you have seen these films before reading, then I can guarantee you that after reading one of the chapters, you will have a strong urge to bust out the movie and watch it again. I know that happened to me each and every time I got through a chapter. Which honestly, is not a bad thing.

I was also surprised at some of the titles that the author chose to cover. While some are standards of the genre, like Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Fulci’s The Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, and Argento’s Opera, there are some others that I think are on the lesser known titles, such as Umberto Lenzi’s Seven Blood-Stained Orchids or Sergio Pastore’s Seven Shawls of Yellow Silk. But if anything, hopefully it is putting  a little spotlight on these films. Sevastakis knows his films and while there are some thoughts or opinions of his that I don’t necessarily agree with, such as these hidden meanings and innuendos, he still gives us an interesting take on these movies.

If you’re a fan of giallo films and don’t mind a little thought-provoking reading, then you might want to look into this one. Unfortunately, I feel the price tag is a bit steep for a book this size, especially in a softcover format. You can check out all the details at McFarland’s website by click HERE, or you can order it by phone here: 800-253-2187.


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